Friday, October 28, 2016

Souped Up Poetry Slam @Dudley Café Roxbury, Mass.

Souped Up Poetry Slam
@Dudley Café
23 Warren St. Roxbury
Right at Dudley Station
7 PM, the first Tuesday of the month
Next Slam, November 1
Cover $10

Dear Readers and my fellow white armchair radicals and knee-jerk liberals, who have been so politically correct in our support of  "Black Lives Matter,"

I invite you to come along with me on Tuesday, November first and allow that slogan to mature into a more heartfelt reality, encounter some black lives and let them begin to matter. I warn you; this has risks, because it will mean letting the individuality of a black life grow out of the abstraction of  “Black Lives” as a masterpiece would emerge for Michelangelo from a block of Carrera marble. The risk comes because, while Michelangelo's marbles wouldn't bleed if you were to hit them with a nightstick or 38, a 45 or a 357; an individual black life that you allow to matter might at anytime become collateral damage in a firefight of the urban war that sputters in Roxbury and Dorchester or a victim of the liberal rules of engagement we have given the police.  Nevertheless, I'm suggesting we need make those attachments even if they do put our souls at risk of grief.

My particular risky connections began to stalk me late last spring, when Kirk Etherton brought Matt Parker of SOUP, the Society Of Urban Poetry (http// into the Bagel Bards. Although Matt hasn't been back to the Bards (could it be that we Bagels are too white bread?) he did extend to us an invitation to the Dudley Café for their “Souped Up” slams on the first Tuesdays and their poetry/performance workshops on the last Tuesdays of every month.

I took Matt up on his invitations. I have been attending the workshops regularly and on October 4 attended the slam, which has provoked this review. Superficially Souped Up was much like any other open mike, performers come in and sign up but this one has a cover charge, which finances a $100 prize for the best slammer of the evening. It also had a larger crowd than any open mike I remember and that crowd was unusual in the number of its members who were not part of the performer’s claques. The community was interested in what was happening at the Dudley Café and this audience’s attention had to be earned. I think that fact, more than anything else, gave the evening its vitality. Because the performers could not assume that any one would pay attention out of some reverence for “poetry.” At this venue poetry would have to entertain; it could not be merely read.

The slam had three rounds; it started off with eight poets and then winnowed those down to six and then to the three from whom the winner would be chosen. All of the slammers held my attention; not once was I embarrassed for a performer, as I often am at events where anyone who signs up in time has a crack at the mike. And it was obvious from the greetings and banter around the poets who were collecting the covers that SOUP is part of a vital, vibrant and dedicated community; one where poetry is considered an important ingredient in any recipe for progress towards sharing our humanity.

While the roster on November 1 will no doubt to be different from the one I saw October 4; here are some quick notes on four of the eight poets I saw in October. I think they are an indication of the range of work that you might encounter next month and I feel confident from what I've seen, that you will be similarly rewarded for attendance:

·        Rasheem Muhamed finished one poem describing his reality with "They still wonder why we talk about despair." Rasheem, of course, was not despairing and lasted into the third round; his poetry overcame the lack of polish in his delivery (too much bombast) but at 17 he has plenty of time to Simonize it.

·        Ashleigh Randolf, who performs as Leigh Lahane, came in second. With her piece about lying men in the first round she struck me as a sort of whiny young woman but when she made it to the final round I realized that the persona in her opening performance was just that, an assumed persona, and that she has a strength to be reckoned with.HERE ?! 

·        Arafat Akbar had the best poem of the night; all five judges in the second round gave him 10's so, after the high and low scores were thrown out, he had a perfect 30 for his long riff on fairy tales and the problems princes charming have with princesses. Akbar is not a prince because his “daddy's rich” but because his “principles are rich,” so he keeps telling the princesses to wake up, to act, to become independent women, to stop lying around waiting for him, for some prince charming to make them happy. At one point this challenge becomes a refrain, "I'm not your Romeo; you're not my Juliet." He then makes it clear that what he means is that she is not his "jewel, yet," but might be if she would just wake up. Unfortunately it took him 50 seconds too long to tell his tale so his score was docked five points and, with a 25, he didn't make it into the finals.
·        Art Collins won with a confessional poem, "I was a fool" about losing his soul mate because of his infidelities. He is on the Lizard Lounge slam team and his delivery was the most polished of the evening.

I have not addressed this review and its invitation to white folks because I want to feel more comfortable or less alone at the slams; in fact, I felt less alone in the Dudley Café than I do in Newton Center. I'm addressing them because most of the white folks I know need to hear what these poets have to say. We need to bear witness to their anger because bearing witness is healing. It will be healing for them to have us listen without being defensive and it will be healing for us to come to know and empathize with the costs of their reality. After all, how can we learn to live together (and we must learn) if we don't get together and talk about “How!” The SOUP events at the Dudley Café are one location where we can start the conversations. I am sure there are others; if you know of any, tell me about them.

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